Sky-high Dining

It’s one thing eating at a high class restaurant.

It’s a whole other thing eating at a high class restaurant, overlooking the vast expanse of a mega-city!

Tokyo has such a demanding presence. As my friend and I sat down, I felt like we were joined by a third ‘person’: the city. It was impossible not to constantly look out at the world below. We were captivated by the glowing sunset with the always-impressive Mt Fuji peaking up over the clouds on the horizon. Red warning lights twinkled on the tops of buildings. To the left, Tokyo Tower was shining bright. Down below, ferries and boats were going up and down the Sumida River. Soccer practice was just wrapping up on a sports field. The streams of traffic was endless. So many lives. So many stories.

What a view!
What a view!

Sky Restaurant Musashi is headed by Naoya Makimura, a former master chef at Paul Bocuse. His experimental-style menu was amazing, as expected. My favourite would have to be a very unusual layered ‘dish’ which accompanied the tilefish entree. I can’t remember what was in all of the layers, but the combination of textures and flavours just worked! It was sublime. The champagne shaved ice for dessert was surprising, too, and left me wanting more!

So, another excellent restaurant tried and (taste)tested. Only about 50,000 to go!

More info >> http://restaurant.tokyo-skytree.jp

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Sanjaaaa!

ROUGH and ROWDY! Men and women yelling and chanting; musicians drumming on the taiko; wooden blocks clapping; whistles blowing; the crowd cheering; yakuza showing off their tattoos (in broad daylight!); men with no pants on… yes, that’s right, semi-naked guys. Hundreds of thousands of people took over the streets of downtown Asakusa over the weekend during the Sanja Matsuri, one of the biggest festivals in Tokyo.

This 3-day event has been going on for over 700 years, attracting people from all over the world who come to see mikoshi being jolted up and down, and backwards and forwards, through the narrow backstreets of Sensoji. The mikoshi, or portable shrines, are heaved up on the shoulders of men and women and paraded around from dawn til dusk. Of the 300+ mikoshi, there are 3 “main” ones. These guys weigh about a ton, or 1000 kg, equivalent to a small car… or an elephant! Sitting on four massive beams, they are carried by about 50 people at a time! Every now and then, the leaders force the mikoshi to suddenly change direction or go backwards, and the 30+ people carrying it at the back are caught off guard and start tripping over each other! The look on their faces, especially the women who are frantically trying not to get trampled, says it all… TERROR. The first-timers in the crowd gasp and hold their breath just waiting for the whole thing to topple over… but the veteran onlookers who’ve seen it a dozen times before just shout “危ない!” (watch out!), or  “頑張れ!” (you can do it!). Within a few seconds, the mikoshi regains stability, and the show goes on!

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the festival. I’d seen photos online and it looked pretty cool, but so do the million other festivals that happen every year in Japan! Well, I guess that’s the good thing about having low or no expectations, the actual experience can only be better! As soon as I came out of Asakusa Station, BAM! I walked straight into a sea of people. I’ve been to crowded festivals before, like the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, but for some reason it just felt like there was A LOT of people there. The traffic in the whole area was cut off, so people were free to roam the streets. Hundreds and hundreds of people were crowded around one mikoshi about to enter the shrine gates. Young and old were cheering and getting into it! And despite the amount of people, in typical Japanese style, there was no pushing and shoving. Leaving the main shrine area, it seemed like every corner I turned, there was a mikoshi with a crowd of followers, or some ritual event going on.  Also, it was bizarre and awesome at the same time, to see all the yakuza with their massive tattoos and weird hairstyles ‘getting amongst it’, when usually they are feared by the whole country!

All in all, it was a thoroughly entertaining festival!!

Dude, where’s my pants?!
Dude, where’s my pants?!
The musicians corner
The musicians corner

Sanja Matsuri

Sanja Matsuri

Mikoshi entering the shrine gate
Mikoshi entering the shrine gate
Nakamise Street leading up to Sensoji
Nakamise Street leading up to Sensoji
Senbei crackers on Nakamise Street. Yumm!
Senbei crackers on Nakamise Street. Yumm!
Food stalls around Sensoji
Food stalls around Sensoji
Just love the hair
Just love the hair
Great view for some lucky people!
Great view for some lucky people!
Shide (paper streamers) to purify the mikoshi
Shide (paper streamers) to purify the mikoshi
Little cuties drumming away!
Little cuties drumming away!
This photo is totally ‘Tokyo’ = Skytree, the Golden Poo, a festival!
This photo is totally ‘Tokyo’ = Skytree, the Golden Poo, a festival!
Musicians waiting for the main mikoshi to arrive
Musicians waiting for the main mikoshi to arrive
Waiting, waiting…
Waiting, waiting…
Shinto folk demon
Shinto folk demon
Special drum for mikoshi
Special drum for mikoshi
Here it comes!
Here it comes!
Poor ladies getting squashed!
Poor ladies getting squashed!

A short video I took:

Off it goes, into the night.
Off it goes, into the night.

Wisteria Festival at Kameido Tenjin Shrine

I swear, there is no such thing as an unappealing garden in Japan! The Kameido Tenjin Shrine garden is no exception. It is balanced, elegant, peaceful and inviting, and has been that way for about 350 years.

Wisteria is called fuji in Japanese. At Kameido Tenjin, in Tokyo’s west, the fuji cascade from high wooden frames, creating a ceiling of purple petals and green leaves. The wisteria bloom every spring and a festival is held to celebrate them at their peak. This year’s festival runs from April 20 – May 6 2013.

At the entrance of the grounds, a giant, red torii welcomes you into the Shinto shrine. A long, straight path then leads you through the middle of the grounds up to the shrine itself. The path also extends around the circumference of the grounds and weaves in and out around the wisteria plants, taking you on a journey around the garden. A big pond, home to turtles and carp, creates spectacular reflections and makes the place so tranquil. Along the main path are two ‘drum bridges’ which rise steeply above the pond waters. The bright, ‘Shinto red’ bridges contrast stunningly with the purple and green of the wisteria. Every day at dusk, lights are switched on for the festival’s ‘light up’ display. The garden transforms into glistening flowers against the night sky. It’s very magical and romantic!

Torii gate
Shinto Torii
Pathway
Approach to the shrine

Top of Wisterias

Wisteria vine 1
Spring colours
Rock sculpture
Unique rock sculpture

Wisteria vine 3

 

Shrine and Lantern

Ema plaque
“Ema” Plaques to write your hopes and wishes

Turtle in Pond

Twisting tree

The famous Drum Bridge
The famous Drum Bridge

The light up begins…

Wisteria vines 4

Light up 2

Light up 3

Light Up

Light Up Reflection

SkyTree
Tokyo SkyTree makes a grand backdrop